After losing for the first time all season, the UCSB men’s basketball team will look to regroup and get back in the winning column tonight against Loyola Marymount University.
Following a 76-72 loss to San Diego State on Saturday, the Gauchos (4-1 overall) will look to avenge last season’s 77-60 road loss to LMU (5-2). The Lions are coming off of a second-place finish to California in the Great Alaska Shootout, a run that included a victory over Big West power Pacific.
“[Loyola Marymount] is good. They spanked us last year down there and they’ve got their two best players coming back,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “That’s going to be a tough game for us. The year only gets tougher and the importance of the games only gets bigger. That’s going to build as the year goes on. Our schedule is challenging, but that’s the way it should be to allow us to grow. We’ve got a lot of growing to do and we’ve got a lot of things that we can improve on.”
The Lions are led by senior guard Brandon Worthy and senior forward Matthew Knight, who average 21 and 17.1 points per game, respectively. Worthy has been on fire lately, scoring 32 points against Pacific and hitting the game-winning three-pointer against New Mexico State.
The Gauchos will counter Worthy and Knight with a high-scoring duo of their own. Junior guard Alex Harris is 21st in the country in scoring at 22.8 points per game, with junior forward Chris Devine adding 18.6 points per game. Unlike the Lions, the Gauchos have a strong third scoring option in freshman guard James Powell. Powell – who has set a new career high in points in four of UCSB’s five games – is currently averaging 14.4 points per game.
Coming into the season, Williams had hoped to get around 45 points per game from Harris, Devine and senior guard Cecil Brown. However, with Brown out due to a leg injury, Powell has stepped up to give the team a third go-to scorer. With Powell’s move to shooting guard, freshman Justin Joyner has stepped in as the starting point guard. Joyner and Powell have formed a young yet talented backcourt, with Harris providing additional ball handling help at times.
“[Powell and I] play well together and we look to each other, and when you’ve got a guy like Al [Harris] scoring like he is right now, you are going to get a lot of opportunities just based off the fact that people are going to [key] on him,” Joyner said. “I think we are a pretty good match for each other, especially with Al in the mix, too.”
With injuries to Brown and senior forward Glenn Turner, the Gauchos have yet to receive any playing time from seniors this season. Turner remains out indefinitely, but Brown has begun running and participating in some portions of practice, and may return tonight.
While the Gauchos have exceeded all early season expectations, the minutes are already piling up for the starters, something that Williams will watch closely with Big West play quickly approaching. Harris is averaging 37 minutes a game, with Devine and Joyner both playing over 32 minutes a night.
“Right now, we’ve got some guys playing an awful lot of minutes and it will wear on you. I don’t want to have players that have to play 39-40 minutes,” Williams said. “In the long run, we need some sort of substitution pattern that we can get production out of.”
Tonight’s opening tip-off will be at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.